WAYNE, NJ –Mayor Chris Vergano introduced Wayne Ordinance #16 during Wednesday night’s Township Council meeting, asking the Council to support a ban on all types of marijuana businesses in Wayne. This was just an introduction, so the affirmative vote by the Council did not make this law yet. In fact, several council members voiced some concerns about a blanket ban.
According to Vergano, as part of the New Jersey law legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, municipalities across the state have 180 days (from February 22, 2021) to enact their own laws banning all or some of the types of businesses that can cultivate, distribute or sell marijuana. The new state marijuana statute puts a five-year moratorium on enacting these laws if they are not put in place in the first 180 days.
“The town council approved an ordinance last year that banned exactly what's in this ordinance tonight,” said the Mayor. “This ordinance tonight replaces the ordinance that we had previously approved and gives new language that is in compliance with the new statute.”
Vergano’s ordinance would ban all six classes of cannabis sales and distribution in Wayne. These include marijuana dispensaries that sell recreational or medical marijuana, distributors, delivery services, cultivators, manufacturers and testing facilities.
“If you fail to adopt this type of ordinance,” warned the Mayor, “Then for the next five years, any of these types of institutions can rent retail space, can establish delivery services and can grow marijuana.”
He then mentioned that since the law was signed in February, the Township has received multiple inquiries about opening marijuana businesses.
“We have told people we are not interested in becoming that Town,” said Vergano.
Second Ward Councilman, Al Sadowski asked that if this prohibition would also ban other delivery services outside of Wayne to deliver marijuana into Wayne.
Township attorney, Matt Giaccobe confirmed this would not be the case. He explained that It would only ban the establishment of a delivery business in Wayne.
“From a commercial perspective,” began Fifth Ward Councilwoman, Fran Ritter. “The state is allowing [these businesses] and Wayne is straddled by towns that are going to permit the sale, and they're going to get tax revenue from it.”
“You're basically saying you don't want to be the kind of town that captures tax revenue and that's something we need,” Ritter added. “And I don't think we can afford to say that we don't want to be that kind of town.”
Ritter compared the revenue that the Township makes on the sale of alcohol and that alcohol creates a problem for Wayne including drunk driving.
“I don't think that the revenue has been totally clarified,” said Giacobbe. “I think a majority of the sales tax generated would go to the state and the town would get very little. They're actually putting together a Commission to study this.”
Vergano countered Ritter’s argument. “We have an $85 million budget each year, and I'm only speculating, but revenue from the sale of marijuana in the Township of Wayne would be a drop in the bucket, and it wouldn't change anybody's tax bill.”
Councilwoman Ritter brought up another point. “In the last election, 60% of Wayne residents voted in favor of the legalization of adult use of cannabis. So we are also denying the will of the people if we adopt such an ordinance.”
“I have no issue if somebody wants to do whatever they want in their private space,” said Sadowski. “But I bet close to 100% of that 60% would vote no to a dispensary that was next door to their property.”
The Mayor agreed. “If we tried to put one of these in the Ramapo Plaza shopping center, or in Pines Lake or in the Packanack shopping center, then those 60% that voted in favor of legalizing marijuana would be the same people up at the podium saying, ‘how could you allow this to go in.’”
“What people voted for in November was to legalize marijuana,” added Vergano. “But what they didn't vote for was opening a dispensary in Wayne, New Jersey.”
Sixth Ward Councilman, Jon Ettman came to Ritter’s defense.
“I happen to agree with Councilwoman Ritter on a number of points,” he said. “I'm having a hard time. Look, a grown adult wants to do what they want to do. If they want to have a drink of alcohol or if they want to smoke some cannabis, whatever they want to do, I'm not in the business of regulating people’s lives.”
“My concern really, as it pertains to this matter before us, is how does it affect the town,” he added. “There may be some benefit here to the town, like Councilwoman Ritter brought up in terms of a financial gain. I just think that maybe this issue should be examined a little more closely before we just cross it out with a big broad stroke of a pen.”
Councilman-At-Large, Dave Varano asked whether the state law allows a reversal if an ordinance like this was passed. “If we were to adopt the ordinance on the second reading, and six months from now or a year from now we decided that we made the wrong decision, and we wanted to repeal this ordinance, can we do that?”
“That’s a good question,” answered Giacobbe. “I’m actually researching that right now for another municipality.”
He then said that, although there is no case law or precedent, Giacobbe believes that the Township could do what Varano asked. “I don't think there's any prohibition that I can find so far.”
Vergano concluded the discussion with: “I think if you ask a majority of Wayne residents, if they want a local place to go [to buy marijuana], the answer is going to be ‘no.’ The amount of taxes that would be generated from this will be so low because the state is going to take the biggest cut. If people want to buy marijuana in Paterson or Pequannock or West Milford or anywhere else, that's fine. The laws have changed but that doesn't mean we have to allow this type of retail in Wayne. I ask you to support this tonight. I don't want Wayne to become that type of town.”
When the vote happened, the ordinance was introduced 6-1, with Ritter as the only ‘no’ vote.
This was just the introduction. During the next Town Council meeting in April, the matter will come up for discussion again before being voted on a second time. This second vote will either enact the ordinance into law, or not.